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U.S. Health Care Spending High, But Quality Lags: Report

THURSDAY, May 3 (HealthDay News) -- Despite the fact that Americans spend more on their health care than citizens of 12 other developed nations, a new report finds that more does not necessarily equal better when it comes to quality of care.

The Commonwealth Fund report, led by senior research associate David Squires, revealed that the United States is shelling out roughly $8,000 per capita for health care, according to 2009 figures. By contrast, the Japanese and New Zealanders spend just one-third of that amount on health care, while Norwegians and the Swiss cough up about two-thirds.

Yet Americans now fare the worst in terms of preventable asthma fatalities among patients aged 5 to 39. The country also ranks poorly -- alongside Germany -- in diabetes-related amputations. As for in-hospital heart attack and stroke death rates, the United States stacks up as average at best.

"It is a common assumption that Americans get more health care services than people in other countries, but in fact we do not go to the doctor or the hospital as often," Squires said in a Commonwealth Fund news release. "The higher prices we pay for health care and perhaps our greater use of expensive technology are the more likely explanations for high health spending in the U.S. Unfortunately, we do not seem to get better quality for this higher spending."

Released on Thursday, the report analyzed health spending in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada, Germany, Norway, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States -- the only nation among those studied that does not provide universal health care.

The authors found that in 2009, the United States ranked No. 1 (followed by the Netherlands) in the proportion of its gross domestic product devoted to health care: a full 17 percent. By comparison, the other countries in the report spent 12 percent or less, with Japan ranking as the lowest spender at about 9 percent.

Despite their country's spending, Americans can expect poorer access to physicians than people in other industrialized nations, with just 2.4 doctors for every 100,000 citizens. On that score, only Japan fared worse, according to the report.

Other troubling indicators included the fact that Americans also have the second-worst rate of physician consultations (behind Sweden), relatively few hospital beds, fairly short hospital stays in acute-care situations and a low rate of hospital discharges.

It wasn't all bad news, however. The United States is No. 1 in survival rates among breast cancer patients. It also shares the top spot (with Norway) for survival rates among colorectal cancer patients.

But when it comes to both hospital and prescription drug costs, Americans are at the highest peak by far.

By the time a U.S. patient is discharged from a hospital, he or she will have cost the health care system about $18,000 on average. Care for a similar Canadian patient comes to just $13,000, while in many other countries (Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany) it dips below $10,000.

When comparing the cost of the 30 most common prescription medications, the report found that Americans are paying one-third more than Canadians and Germans, and twice as much as their Australian, French, Dutch, British and New Zealand counterparts.

Americans can take some solace in the report's observation that every nation in the study is battling a trend of ever-increasing health care costs. Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, noted that recent legislative changes have the potential to help improve the financials of health care across the country.

"The Affordable Care Act gives us the opportunity to build a health care system that delivers affordable, high-quality care to all Americans," Davis said in the news release. "To achieve that goal, the United States must use all of the tools provided by the law, including new methods of organizing, delivering and paying for health care, that will help to slow the growth of health care costs while improving quality."

More information

Visit the World Health Organization to learn about global health expenditure.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: Commonwealth Fund, news release, May 2, 2012

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